Off The Fence

Off The Fence: 'It's not all just anti-Tyrone propaganda'

Tyrone's battles with Armagh during the 2000s were the stuff of legend but while it's the Red Hands who have maintained their presence among the top tier since, their style has consistently drawn criticism in recent years.

AT the height of their rivalry in the 2000s, which was so wonderfully examined by Joe Kernan and Brendan Crossan over the weekend, you could imagine Tyrone and Armagh kinsfolk staring across the Blackwater at other with a bad eye in their heads.

Armagh brought the idea of counter-attacking football to the inter-county scene but Mickey Harte developed it to greater heights, and to ultimately greater joys, winning three All-Irelands to Joe Kernan’s one.

It was a glorious period of Ulster rivalry, a glorious period of football to match any that have gone before. They hated each other and respected each other in equal measure.

Armagh went way towards the end of the decade and haven’t been a major player since, but Tyrone have held their own long enough now to be considered a resident at the top end of Gaelic football.

First it was their aggression that annoyed people, and now it’s their style of play, which has been micro-analysed since The Day That Shall Not Be Named last August.

‘Football Fan’ is from the other side of the rivalry but he feels that while Tyrone are entitled to play however they please, Harte is wrong to think there is an agenda against them.

“Mickey Harte is wrong when he claims that critics of Tyrone's style of play are focussing on a single bad day against Dublin in last year’s semi-final.

“Tyrone's style of play has been ugly for several years now, ever since Mickey embarked on mimicking the Donegal style. While obviously effective when they win, their style remains laborious, tedious and unattractive to watch, regardless of the result.

“I'm an Armagh man and recall remarking to several Tyrone fans in last year’s quarter-final, that while Armagh couldn't cope with their system, Tyrone were still awful to watch. Many Tyrone people around me agreed with me.

“Mickey is correct that all teams now pull men behind the ball, but my problem with them is more with their play when they have the ball, their lateral rugby league style fist-passing game and lack of kicking the ball.

“Mickey regularly asserts that stats and evidence are required to back up perceptions and I am in no doubt that if someone had the time and inclination to compare Tyrone's number of kick passes per game with that of other teams they would fall far short of most teams in the country and certainly Mayo, Dublin and Kerry who most consider to be much more entertaining.

“Mickey suggests that all teams defend and attack. Of course they do. But to claim that all teams devote the same proportions of emphasis to each, and have the same attitude to taking risk with possession, is frankly ridiculous.

“Is there not relentless debate about the varying approaches to defence and attack and the consequent entertainment value of Premiership teams? In boxing, did not Floyd Mayweather put much more emphasis on defence than most of his more entertaining rivals?

“I've said it before, play the game whatever way you see fit Mickey, but people don't have to like it. I have no issue saying that Tyrone in ‘05 and ‘08 played some of the best attacking football ever seen. It’s not all just anti-Tyrone propaganda.”

Meanwhile, ‘GAA Club Man’ got in touch after reading Brendan Crossan’s recent column that questioned whether playing the game you love should ever be considered a drag.

“Just got round this morning to reading this article and absolutely love it.

“We play the game because we love it. We love the camaraderie, we love the hurt, we love the sacrifice.

“My club is preparing for life in senior football this year and the training is as difficult and time-consuming as I’ve had in my senior career.

“We’ve recently added a new addition to the squad – a young lad around 23 years of age – who has only played local, “pub-league,” soccer for the last 10 years.

“Usual commitment of one training a week, one match and a pinting session afterwards is all that was required from him so you can imagine the shock to his system coming in to us this year.

“I spoke with him last week concerned he might be finding it a bit too much (having needed to lie down on the grass for 10 minutes after a particularly gruelling tackle-grid.) Despite the hurt and gruesome suffering he ensured me he’s never felt happier and more excited to be part of the team.

“He loves the discipline, the elite level of training and the professionalism of the recovery, cool downs, gym sessions, hydration etc. Despite popular opinion from the likes of Brolly et al – we don’t slave because we feel contractually and morally obliged to throw away our youth to the glory of the GAA and its supreme leaders… we do it because we love it.”

CO’K: Pub league soccer is great craic. I recall playing one Saturday morning game where two of my team-mates were only pulling their boots on as the referee was lining up to blow the whistle. There are attractions to both sides of the coin.

Last week also saw Fermanagh vice-chairman Phil Flanagan throw up a significant red flag to the idea of a tiered All-Ireland championship. Away from the usual reasons, he told Andy Watters that the financial burden of lower-tier counties playing until September could simply be too much to bear.

And so, when faced with a new problem, ‘Brian’ came up with an old answer on Twitter.

“The answer is right in front of us. Why not split it like club football? Senior, intermediate and junior All-Ireland, with three National League divisions. Whichever division you’re in, that’s what championship you play in. Play the provincial championship as a warm-up knockout competition after the league finishes to keep everyone happy. Then play the 3-tiered All-Ireland championship. This gives weaker counties the opportunity to make an All-Ireland final and build from this. It’s the blueprint that has worked for club football for years – why not county football?”

CO’K: It may be an old answer, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right.

And lastly, while our readers have either skimmed over the Michael O’Neill issue or potentially libelled someone in their comments, ‘Jim’ was going down a perpendicular route, drawing rugby into the north-south debate.

“I’m a lifetime GAA fan and I love all sports involving Irish men and women, but won't it be great if the captain of the Irish rugby team even tries to mime the national anthem, or at least try the reserve anthem? Maybe you could send Rory Best the lyrics before Saturday. It's embarrassing to see the captain of our national team just huffing and puffing. If he can't read I'll get him a tutor.”

CO’K: Rory Best is absolutely entitled not to sing. He may be captain of an Irish rugby team but that includes the north, and by extension those of a unionist persuasion. He shouldn’t be made sing Amhran na bhFiann any more than Niall McGinn should be made sing God Save The Queen.

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